Super Bowl ad makers call audible

Many avid Super Bowl viewers are asking themselves the following question – what was with this year’s commercials?

Unlike nearly every other Super Bowl, the majority of the commercials did not solely focus on hyper-sexualized images or attempts at humor to sell products. Instead, many of the commercials shone light on various social issues, taking many viewers by complete surprise and even bringing some to tears.

Nissan had arguably the most depressing commercial this year.

Nissan’s commercial featured a professional racecar driver who was never home to see his son grow up because of his career. The commercial shows the driver experiencing a terrible crash as his wife watches it on TV and his young son plays with a toy car. The driver is fine, and eventually he decides to leave his career behind to be able to spend time with his son, who is in high school at that point. The commercial ends with the father and son hugging it out in a brand new Nissan car.

After watching this commercial and many others I did feel a sadness that I usually do not experience after watching Super Bowl commercials. But what I felt even more than that sadness was a hope and a call for change in society.

Nissan’s commercial was sad, but it addressed something that has often been shunned in American society: men feeling emotion.

As a boy growing up in America, I can clearly remember being told that boys don’t cry, and was encouraged to bottle my emotions. This gender-specific mantra can lead to what the American Psychological Association President Ronal Levant calls the normative male alexithymia, or “men’s greater problems with expressing their emotions, a possible contributor to depression and barrier to treatment.”

But the Nissan commercial did just the opposite of this male mantra.

The father and the son are both shown portraying emotion throughout the entire commercial, specifically sadness. This is important, especially given that “for many years, the suicide rate has been about four times higher among men than among women,” according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

American males need to be told that they can feel and express their emotions that are not anger. What better time to tell males than during the Super Bowl?

And Nissan wasn’t the only company to take this emotional call-to-action approach: had a commercial that played the audio of a real 9-11 call regarding domestic abuse in which a woman secretly asks for help from the police by pretending to order pizza; Nationwide Insurance had a commercial that revolved around preventable accidents that lead to child death; and Microsoft had a commercial about a real child who lost his legs and was learning how to walk with prosthetic legs.

Each of these commercials, though sad in terms of content, paves the way for progress to be made in American society. They do not merely point out the social problems, but instead have a call for action.

It’s true that the commercials were not what many viewers were expecting to watch, but they are what America needed to hear in order to spark a conversation about change.

As Albert Einstein once said, “we can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”